Where did that noise come from? Am I dreaming it? My eyes open, as another loud noise is coming from somewhere in our bedroom. As the rays from the sun pierce through the second story window of our apartment, I can barely make out my older brother, naked except for his white underwear only partially covering his body, his hands clearly above his head and holding my G.I Joe. As I struggle to understand what he is about to do, I stand to attention, and then…
My G.I. Joe is hurled out of the window. I can almost hear Joe yell “Hoooohaaaw”, his Kung-Fu grip flapping in the wind as he meets his demise. As I look down, his lifeless body rests on the aluminum patio roof that covers much of the back yard behind our apartment. As I wipe the sleep from my eyes, I can see our lawn darts, a Tonka truck fire engine, and a few other toys on the metal roof that have apparently also met their doom. Interestingly enough, some are faded, as they have been there quite some time, remnants of our previous attempts at explaining gravity from a child’s perspective.
Mom is yelling at us now. She is making breakfast – cafe con leche and toast. Yes that is right, we drank coffee as children. If we had been born in today’s world, my parents would have been scorned for this practice. In fact, I have no doubt that we would have been labeled ADHD, or something far worse. There were four of us, all boys, with only 5 years difference between the oldest and the youngest. I never understood back then why only certain people dared to visit us on a regular basis. I do now, and I forgive you all.
We quickly eat our breakfast. I say quickly because the breakfast table at our home was like watching an episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom – survival of the fittest. The oldest brother would usually rip through his food first, flesh and spit flying everywhere as he devoured every crumb on his plate, only to hover over mine like a vulture. Picture me with arms covering my plate, head only a couple inches from my food, protecting my portion from all invaders. Our younger brothers of course would soon suffer the consequences of being born too late, as my older brother and I descended upon them, forcing them to cry out in vain, to no avail.
It is Saturday. No school. Party time time for us, but a mom’s worst nightmare. She has much to do, and no way to do it with four wild animals roaming through the house. What to do? Well, like every Saturday, she hands my brother and I two bucks each and kicks us out of the house. We are told not to show up until sundown. The two younger urchins will be picked up by grandma soon, freeing mom to clean the house, and maybe even allowing for some shopping. So my brother and I hang outside for a bit in the morning before heading off to the local library. It’s winter and as we step into our New Jersey neighborhood, we are greeted by our friend mister snow, and that can only mean one thing for us.
In the front of our apartment building the landlord constructed a wall made of cinder blocks, about 4 feet high, almost as if he knew it would be a perfect staging location for snow balls. We pick our sides, and start to construct our projectiles. Maybe you are unaware of the proper way of constructing snow balls. Let me explain. Snow does not stick to itself if it is too fresh. However, once it begins to melt a little, forming ice, it makes perfect, hard balls that not only hold their shape, but hurt like heck. Please remember to avoid the yellow snow. If you don’t know why, I won’t be revealing it in this article.
We spend about 5 minutes lining up our weapons along our side of the wall. When we are ready, it is on! The front yard transforms itself into a scene from Edward Scissorhands, snow flying through the air, as if we are captives in a snow globe that someone just shook up and turned over, to marvel at its beauty. Minutes of preparation turns into a furious display of warfare that feels much longer than the minute or so it takes us to unleash our fury. This goes on for awhile as we stop to reload over and over. The interesting thing is how we both seemed to follow some unwritten snow fighting rule that forbids us from using guerrilla tactics and running over and attacking up close, negating the use of the wall as cover.
Snow fights usually make us hungry. When we get hungry on a Saturday, there is only one place we go. Of course mom knew this, which is why she gave us just enough money for a slice of pizza and a soda. We don’t walk to the pizza place, we run to the pizza place. It is a small place, right around the corner from our home. The pizza guy knows us very well. We are there quite often. Funny thing is I don’t remember eating anything else there except a slice and a soda, although I am sure they had other items. We are in heaven. It is New York style pizza, piping hot. I always end up burning the roof of my mouth, since I never wait for it to cool down before eating it. As a result, the first bite ends up removing much of the cheese from the slice, creating quite a mess. I don’t care. It’s pizza on a Saturday with my brother. What could be better than this?
What could be better? I’ll tell you what – the chess tournament at the library, that’s what. Oh, you have never experienced this? Well let me tell you, it was quite exciting. Our local library was a hub of activity back then. This was before the Internet, so kids actually had to go somewhere to read books. It was called a library. It was the best places in town. Not only did we read actual books, but they had games – Monopoly, Parcheesi, Chutes and Ladders. The most amazing part of this enchanted fun palace was – it was free. The city gladly provided this service to its residents. Yes I know, we still have libraries, it’s just that today nobody goes there.
So today was the big Chess tournament. They had it every year, and anyone could enter. I not only entered the tournament the first day it was announced, but I read every Chess book in the library. By the time tournament day had come, I was absolutely sure no one would beat me. Oh yeah, I know the defending Champion was 17 and I was only 8. I didn’t care. I was sure he had not been as diligent as I in studying the game. He was probably resting on his laurels from last year’s win, and had no idea the defeat that awaited him. I listened anxiously as the game assignments were read. Wouldn’t you know it, I was slotted to play first, and against none other than the defending champion. Someone must have told the officials how much I had studied. That must be it. They knew I was the one to watch out for this year, and they wanted to see my skills right at the beginning.
My game lasted a total of 3 minutes, and I lost in 3 moves.
No I am not kidding. What a dumb game, I thought. I would spend the rest of my younger years playing a much easier game – baseball.
Ok here’s the truth. I don’t think all these events happened on the same day. I am in my mid forties and my memory is fading. But all these events are true events, probably happening on different days. I was so blessed to have such an innocent life. Much of my younger years were spent very much like the one depicted here. We didn’t worry about the things most kids have to worry about today. We were just – well – kids. We lived in a world of imagination, a world were everything was a game. We didn’t think about our future. We lived for today.